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San Diego Council Agrees to Bonds for New Ballpark

November 21, 2001|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — After three years of lawsuits and political rancor, the City Council on Tuesday voted 8 to 1 to sell $170 million in bonds to build a downtown ballpark for the San Diego Padres.

"It's time to break out the peanuts and Cracker Jack," exulted Councilman Byron Wear.

Voters endorsed the project by nearly 60% in 1998 but litigation has prevented the council from selling bonds. Fourteen lawsuits have been filed against the project, including eight by a former councilman, Bruce Henderson.

"I hope we don't let government-by-litigation dominate San Diego," Councilman Jim Madaffer said.

With two of Henderson's lawsuits still on appeal, the city will pay a higher interest rate and a higher premium for default insurance, officials said.

Padres' owner John Moores has insisted that the team needs a new ballpark to become profitable and be able to remain in San Diego.

The Padres hope the park will debut on opening day 2004, which would be two years later than voters were promised in 1998.

The 42,500-seat park is designed for the eastern section of downtown, an area that has not experienced the revitalization that has transformed much of downtown.

Councilwoman Donna Frye, the lone "no" vote, said she was concerned that the council is banking on as-yet unbuilt hotels to provide the taxes to repay the bonds.

"This is too risky at this point," she said.

Many critics strongly oppose the idea of using public funds to build a facility for a professional sports franchise, but boosters predict the ballpark will spur other development.

Opponents suggested that a second election should be held because the financial terms of the project--such as how much property tax will be used--have changed. "This has been a field of schemes since Day One," critic Christian Michaels said.

But City Atty. Casey Gwinn said the city cannot hold such an election because it signed a contract with the Padres after the 1998 vote

The full price tag is $449 million, with the Padres paying 30%. The remaining 70% will be financed by the city, the Unified Port District and the city's redevelopment agency.

Construction was halted for 13 months when the city declined to provide additional funds until the bonds were sold.

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